We are gradually working towards using hedges as the stock proof boundaries of the Trust’s fields, both through an ongoing programme of laying and restoring existing hedges and by planting new ones.
While this work is in progress we need to maintain the fences we currently have. Inevitably posts break and need replacing. We are finding that some modern tanalised soft wood posts are lasting less then 5 years, depending on the strain they are put under.
Led by a desire for the farm to be an increasingly self-sustaining system and to avoid using chemically treated posts and all the industrial processing and environmental impact that goes with them, we are experimenting with making our own Laburnum fence posts.
We coppiced several stools of Laburnum earlier in the winter, as is detailed in this post. Laburnum has a very hard heartwood and it lasts a long time in contact with the soil, making it very suitable for fence posts.
We put aside the thicker lengths for use as straining posts and selected out a dozen or so that could make decent fence posts. These were cut to length using the Trust’s new Silky Fox hand saw. These saws are rather expensive compared to a bow saw but are wonderful to use, with a comfortable hand grip and a good cutting action. The ends of the posts were then pointed with a bilhook.
As can be seen in the picture above, there is quite a variation in the posts. It will be interesting to monitor how long the various thickness of post last in the soil and how they compare to tanalised soft wood posts.
The picture below shows one of the fence posts in place in the fence. All but the thickest or most awkwardly shaped posts were put in with a post knocker. They went in easily, with two of us working the post knocker together, and look interestingly organic in the fence compared to the more uniform tanalised posts. Two thick posts that were knocked in with a fencing maul split at the top. In future, it may be worth considering splitting thick post into two or more smaller posts if they are straight enough. They should then be less susceptible to splitting and could also be knocked in with the post knocker which is much less likely to split posts.
Using Laburnum to make fence posts is probably nothing new in this area. Sometimes, Laburnum will take root when large branches and trunks are pushed into the ground (limbar cuttings). In our area, it is said that Laburnum was imported by the Cawdor estate for use as fence posts, many of which took root, leading to the multitude of Laburnums now seen in local hedgerows. We have recent examples of this happening on the Trust land, including a tree in our garden which was originally a support for a washing line! Perhaps some of these fence post will become trees that will, in their turn, be coppiced to produce more fence posts.